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Reflecting On A Year Of Protests For Racial Justice


A traffic stop led to another fatal police shooting in Minneapolis this week. Throughout 2020, angry and grieving demonstrators took to the streets across the country to protest racial injustice and police violence, shouting the names of slain Black men and women - George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake and so many more. They dealt with the pandemic, insults from President Trump and armed police and in some cases counterprotesters to try to make their point. Covering these protests from Minnesota Public Radio has been Jon Collins, who joins us now. Jon, thanks so much for being with us.

JON COLLINS, BYLINE: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Please tell us the latest we know about Wednesday's shooting. Who was the victim, and what have we learned from police body cam footage?

COLLINS: The shooting happened around 6:15 on Wednesday night. And I live in this neighborhood here, actually, and I heard a series of pops. What we found out since is police apparently pursued Dolal Idd as part of a crime detail about weapons, because violent crime has been rising in Minneapolis, like it has other places. And the body camera footage shows us that police tried to box Idd in at a gas station with their SUVs. Idd was in the driver's seat of a vehicle. He drew a gun. And it's hard to tell exactly what happened, but the glass from Idd's car window appears to explode out. Perhaps a shot was fired, and then there's a series of maybe a dozen shots that ring out. And Idd died at the scene. And there was a woman in the car with him. She was not injured, and no police were injured.

SIMON: You have been covering these racial justice protests, which really seemed to peak over the summer. What's some of what you've seen?

COLLINS: The protests have changed. They are more focused, and the folks who are coming out to protests are experienced. And they know how to deal with police, and they know kind of what their demands might be in. And it is a younger constituency than you would see in protests, say, two years ago. So George Floyd was killed on May 25, and there were protests, you know, in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The protests started out very peaceful, you know, as marches. It was signs. It was the stuff that you typically see during these protests. And when they were met with force by law enforcement, activists would say they escalated. And what ended up happening is that the protests turned into riots, looting and arsons in some case. What did come out of it was that George Floyd Square, which is 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis, has been occupied by protesters since May. And the city doesn't seem to really have a plan to reopen it. So that's a tactic that they've used, is creating this sort of de facto autonomous zone, and that's something that we've seen in Seattle and other places, too.

SIMON: Why do you think these protests came to a head on an issue that sadly has been with us for many years?

COLLINS: Yeah, I think it's the drumbeat of these sort of killings by police officers. In Minnesota, but also across the country, people, as more and more of these incidents happen, feel frustrated that change isn't coming as quickly as they want. They've lost some faith in institutional change.

SIMON: I know you talked to a lot of people in the community. What have you heard about what they feel they might have been able to achieve over this past year?

COLLINS: During the summer, there was a lot of optimism. You know, there was a big rally in the park, including city council members, about defunding the police. And what has happened is that the city council has been moving money out of the department. It's not happening super-fast. It's not a majority of the money, but they're moving it into services, not law enforcement, that they say prevent crime. And activists have claimed this movement of funds is a victory. At the same time, Mayor Jacob Frey has been announcing some departmental changes to the police force. Just this week, they announced that they're going to beef up investigations into officer misconduct, so that leads to the officers that we fire for misconduct losing their jobs permanently and not being put back on the police force.

And as far as the activists, we're just going to see them keep pushing the envelope when someone's killed by police, like they did this week. One activist who's been involved for years, Nekima Levy Armstrong, was telling us that she's pleased the city is taking the steps of releasing the body camera footage more quickly. But that by itself doesn't make up for decades of mistrust.


NEKIMA LEVY ARMSTRONG: Here's the body camera footage being released so swiftly because people are demanding the release of the information or because police feel that there's information that will vindicate or exonerate the officers involved.

SIMON: Did police change their strategy, tactics, patrol, response?

COLLINS: In May, when peaceful protesters marched to the precinct, they were met with tear gas, pepper spray and, you know, lines of riot cops. On Wednesday, I saw police officers, like, standing behind police tape. Some of them didn't even have helmets on. There was no pepper spray that I saw being used. There was no arrests made. The police were relatively restrained.

SIMON: Minnesota Public Radio reporter Jon Collins, thanks so much.

COLLINS: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Collins